Small-Scale Ways to Improve Member Onboarding

Uhl November 25, 2019 By: Ashley Uhl, CAE

Member retention starts the day someone joins an association. Having an effective onboarding strategy not only helps new members feel welcome but increases the odds of them renewing.

Any membership professional knows the three Rs of membership: recruitment, retention, and renewal.

But there is some debate on when exactly member retention begins. I believe it starts the moment a person clicks “join now.”

Individuals do not typically join to be passive members. They are ready to get involved and get the most out of their purchase, so your onboarding program should be ready to engage them immediately. And by the times its complete, your members should be wondering why they waited so long to join.

Avoid the Onboarding of Yesteryear

It used to be that onboarding rested solely on the shoulders of the membership department. That’s not the case anymore. Get your entire association staff team and a dedicated corps of members involved.

“In a previous position, I put out a call to the full membership for individuals to serve as ambassadors to new members. The response was overwhelming,” said Robin Muthig, director of membership for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. “Members experience the association differently than staff, so they can provide invaluable insights to new members.”

Meanwhile, Nancy Burke, vice president of membership at the Direct Selling Association (DSA), cautions against providing too much information at the onset, which can feel overwhelming.

“There was a welcome binder with more information than they could ever want, a welcome phone call from a volunteer, save the dates for the annual meeting and other events, a member pin, and then silence [from the member].”

Nancy found that this welcome left newbies feeling confused, inundated, and unsure about how to get the most out of their membership. After some research, DSA began onboarding members periodically throughout their first year.

Consider asking members their top one or two reasons for joining, so you can connect them to resources that help the most.

Make Changes to Onboarding Communications

All of your onboarding messages need to feel personalized with content cultivated specifically for the member’s interests. Here are a few options to consider:

Option 1: Divide and conquer. Divide your new member list by segments. For example, it could be by age, geographic location, or career stage. This will allow you to tailor messages and personalize content to specific audiences. Personalization also needs to go beyond talking to someone on a first-name basis—make sure content truly resonates with the reader. Monitor open rates and click-through metrics to make sure engagement is happening.

Option 2: Mix it up. If you have a larger marketing budget, and the ability to use multiple platforms to reach members, test them out. Relying on email alone may be detrimental to your engagement success. According to Statista, 269 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2017, and 55 percent of email users admit they don’t read email regularly.

On the flip side, snail mail is making a resurgence, which might make it a great fit for your next onboarding campaign. However, if you use direct mail, make sure you include trackable URLs or try some A/B testing to see what’s working.

Option 3: Invest in research. Do you “get” your members? Take some time to find out what matters to them, which could also vary by segment. Emerging professionals won’t be interested in the same tools and resources that a CEO needs. Consider asking members their top one or two reasons for joining, so you can connect them to resources that help the most.

Research like this is best conducted by a third-party firm, but if you don’t have the budget for that, member satisfaction surveys can be built in-house. You’ll get the richest data through focus groups and in-depth interviews, but even an online survey will help you gain insight into member motives.

Ashley Uhl, CAE

Ashley Uhl, CAE, is the founder of Association Think in Vienna, Virginia.